Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’

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A Palestinian protester walks near burning tires during clashes with Israeli forces during a demonstration in the village of Kfar Qaddum in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, against the Jewish state's plans to annex part of the territory, on June 12, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 12 August 2020

Why Middle East and North Africa is ranked the world’s ‘least peaceful region’

  • Five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world located in MENA, according to Global Peace Index 2020
  • Europe ranked most peaceful region, with Iceland taking top spot as most peaceful country in the world

DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has been ranked the least peaceful in the world for the sixth consecutive year in a study conducted by an Australian think tank, Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP).

Five of the 10 least peaceful countries in the world — Sudan, Libya, Syrian, Iraq, Yemen — are located in MENA, according to the 2020 edition of the Global Peace Index (GPI).

Released recently by the IEP, the study tracks and ranks the status of peace in 163 independent states and territories across the world, noting where conflict is rising and falling, and which factors are influencing change.

Syria, the report says, remains the least peaceful country in MENA and the second least peaceful country overall, while Iraq is the second least peaceful country in the region and the third least peaceful overall.

Saudi Arabia improved by three ranks, from 128 to 125, and Bahrain recorded the greatest improvement in the region and the third largest improvement of any nation overall, with a 4.8 percent jump in its overall score.

Only three countries from the region — the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar — ranked in the top 50 peaceful countries in the world.

Globally, Europe remains the most peaceful region, with Iceland taking the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world. However, the report also mentioned that almost half of the countries in Europe have deteriorated in peacefulness since 2008, the year the GPI was launched.

The peace index measures more than just the presence or absence of war. It captures the absence of violence or the fear of violence across three domains: Safety and Security; Ongoing Conflict; and Militarization.

While both the Militarization and Ongoing Conflict markers improved on average in MENA, the report noted a deterioration in Safety and Security, due to a stronger likelihood of violent demonstrations and increase in political instability.

For instance, violent demonstrations continue to be a concern in Iraq, which has the maximum possible score on this indicator.

“Since protests erupted across the country in October 2019, Iraq has had more than 700 fatalities and thousands of severe injuries as a result of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces,” the report noted.

Iran had the largest fall in peacefulness in the region, its score deteriorating across all three GPI domains, with the largest occurring in Safety and Security.

While the deterioration in global peacefulness has not been limited to any one region, indicator or country, conflict in the Middle East has been the key driver of diminishing peace in the world, according to the report.

“Of the 23 indicators in the MENA region, 19 are under the average,” said Serge Stroobants, director of operations for Europe and MENA at the IEP. “Four of the main conflicts of the past years are located in the region — Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

According to Dr. Theodore Karasik, from Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., the numbers are not surprising given the perceptions and realities in the region.



2.5% decline in average global peacefulness since 2008

“The issue here, within the GPI scope, is the safety and security of people in the region,” he told Arab News.

“Given the tensions between countries on multiple planes — political, religious, social — when combined with various forms of conflict from kinetic to cyber, it creates an impact on the peoples in question.” 

However, the MENA region, despite ongoing armed conflict and instability, did record improvements in some areas, including the number of deaths from internal conflict, the intensity of internal conflicts, and both the import and export of weapons.

Saudi Arabia has jumped five spots in the index since 2008, with Internal Safety and Security as the only domain of indicators to decrease in the past year.

“This is mostly linked to the number of refugees, of internally displaced people (IDPs) on the territory, and some levels of political terror,” said Stroobants.

“The only other indicator that decreased last year was the number of External and Internal Conflicts Fought, so we see the emergence of internal conflict and this is linked with some kind of movement on the political terror scale that created IDPs on Saudi Arabian soil.”

Syria, despite its low ranking in the GPI, recorded a slight improvement in peacefulness, with the civil war and turmoil continuing to lessen in intensity.

“Following the ceasefire deal of March 2020, around 35,000 displaced civilians have returned to their homes in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib,” the report says.

“However, millions of Syrians are still either displaced internally or are refugees.”

The report attributed the overall decline in global peace — the average level of global peacefulness that has deteriorated by 2.5 per cent since 2008 — to a range of factors, including increased terrorist activity, intensification of conflicts in the Middle East, rising regional tensions in Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia, increasing numbers of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US.

This year’s edition of the GPI finds that the world has become less peaceful for the ninth time in the last 12 years.

The crisis provoked by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is also playing a significant role in causing global instability according to the report, which notes its potential to undo years of socio-economic development, exacerbate humanitarian crises and aggravate unrest and conflict. Its impact is already being seen in worsening US-China relations and civil unrest across the world, says the report.

In Karasik’s view, the pandemic is the most critical driver of instability owing to its effect on interaction, commerce and, most importantly, politics.

“The pandemic, when combined with other regional grievances, becomes a struggle between methods and approaches,” he told Arab News.

“In the Middle East, the modelling is roughly the same in terms of lockdown, testing and treatment. The GPI findings may show quite a different picture next year as the region continues to contend with the virus and its lasting impact.”

This complex, multi-dimensional threat to stability requires countries to seek innovative solutions for long-term peace, the report said.

“At the institute, we developed a concept called the Positive Peace Index (PPI), which looks at the attitudes, institutions and processes that a country needs to put in place in order to create, maintain and sustain peace,” said Stroobants.

He listed the eight principles of the PPI: a well-functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of rights of others, good relations with neighbors, high levels of human capital, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information and low levels of corruption.

In this file photo taken on June 22, 2018, members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) carry rifles as they stand guard on a road in the Qandil Mountains, the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq. (AFP/File Photo)

When all eight principles are followed by a country, said Stroobants, it leads to a transformation. The GPI report emphasizes that the IEP has empirically derived the PPI through the analysis of almost 25,000 economic and social progress indicators to determine which ones have statistically significant relationships with peace as measured by the GPI.

“We also see the economic, social, governance and ecological benefits that come along and, by doing so, we create more resilient societies, which will be able to better cope with civil unrest, natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and COVID-19,” said Stroobants.

“Therefore, our advice is: Invest in positive peace. It’s an innovative form of development.”



Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.